“My name is Salah Rasool, I am from Kurdistan, which is known as North Iraq, but generally I don’t count myself as an Iraqi. I am Kurdish and I always belong to Kurdistan.
“In 1980 to 1988, Iraq was in war with Iran, the whole world was supporting Saddam. As a nation we were against the Iraqi government. As a child and teenager, I lived throughout that, and after 1991 after the Gulf War we did the uprising in our cities, I saw my brother get injured; we were children running around playing football and there were bullets and bombs everywhere.
“In 1997 there was civil war after I graduated from studying biology in university. The conflict was really hard for us and as a Kurdish nation at that time, and I had to leave. I left everything behind.
“It took me about nine months to get from Kurdistan to Wales. I had to go from Iraqi Kurdistan and walk through mountains to Iran, and then Turkey, with around 20 people. 14 of us were arrested, 6 of us managed to survive or escape.
“We ended up in Istanbul and didn’t have anywhere to stay. I was a tailor so I had some skills and managed to work in a tailor shop for most of those nine months to earn some money and then go to Greece. It took 14 nights – walking at night and sleeping in the day.
“We carried on, three days in Italy, carried on through Paris, and I stayed one night in Belgium and came here, applied for asylum and after three or four weeks I got my status, and I moved around to Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham and then Swansea.
“When I crossed over the Severn Bridge from Birmingham, I don’t know what it was but my heart was beating fast and the whole world opened for me, I had a special feeling. Throughout all those countries I passed, it almost felt like I was going home. It felt like home, and it became home for me.
“One day I went to Swansea Refugee Council with a person I helped to interpret for and the team leader asked me if I wanted to volunteer with them, it was a greater opportunity for me. I could speak English and read letters, I was helping Kurdish friends around me and when I started at the Welsh Refugee Council my life became open and I could help different communities from different backgrounds.
“Then I applied for a receptionist job in 2005 and I got it and that was it, my life completely changed. So I owe the Welsh Refugee Council, and that’s why I am still working here, 10, 11 years later.
“When I crossed the Severn Bridge I saw “Gwasanaethau” and I knew I wanted to learn Welsh. I went to a class just before I started with the refugee council and then I did an intensive course in Bangor University after meeting my wife, and my children speak English, Welsh and Kurdish.
“I met my wife, a Welsh girl, when I started as a volunteer at Swansea Refugee Council. I started as a floating case worker and when I got the job I met her who was then working in Cardiff and came to the Swansea office one day, and that’s how we met.
“We married in 2006, well my background and culture is Muslim religion, and my father was very traditional so we had a Muslim ceremony. In 2007 we had a Welsh celebration in a chapel, and in 2009 we had a Kurdish celebration. Lots of anniversaries!
“I did my wedding vows in Welsh, which was a bit of a struggle! But all of my life has been a struggle and challenge. I did it because my father in law is a Minister and speaks Welsh, so he married us and I did it all in Welsh. I think I did OK!
“I feel reborn in Wales. When we’re born we have no choice of our circumstances, it depends on our parents. Some people are born in the wrong place, I would say I was one of them. All of my life in Kurdistan was a struggle but from day one when I moved to Wales all I see is positivity, my life completely changed. Everything so far has gone to a different level. I’m very happy to have ended up here.”
Welsh Refugee Council in Cardiff are using a National Lottery grant of £9,750 to offer their clients access to computers and the internet, and improve their website by translating it into six languages and upgrading their servers. They work across Wales to protect the rights of refugees, offering specialist support services to asylum seekers and refugees as well as influencing policy and practice to respond to the needs of migrants.
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